by Richard Becker
Lizzy Capland outflanked the outstretched hands of the man in the Santa suit and sat down on the bench beside him. She had turned 11 last June, far too old to sit on someone’s lap.
“Too old to sit on my lap but not too old to see me,” mused Santa from behind the big white curls of his beard. “Well, hello there.”
“Yes sir, I’m too old. I mean, no sir,” said Lizzy. “I’m not here to really see you. I mean…”
Santa drew up an eyebrow, waiting patiently for her explanation.
“Well, I’m here to see you, obviously,” said Lizzy nervously, trying to find the words. “But I’m here to see you for my brother. He’s eight.”
“Oh, I see,” said Santa Claus. “And what is his name?”
“Johnny,” she said. “Only he likes to be called John now. It makes him feel older.”
“Yes,” Santa said as if remembering something before offering her a wink. “He’s still Johnny to me too.”
“Then you probably know why he couldn’t make it here himself,” she said, breathing out the words in anxious desperation. “He’s terribly, terribly sick. He has leukemia.”
“It’s all right, child,” he said, putting a bear of an arm around her. “It’s all right.”
“Well, no sir. It’s not all right,” she fought back the tears. “But that is why I came to see you. I want to ask you for a Christmas miracle.”
“Oh, my dear, dear girl,” his voice dropping from merry tenor to a whispering baritone. “As much as I wish I could move heaven and earth to heal all children, it is beyond my powers.”
“I know Mr. Claus,” she said, regaining her composure. “I’m not asking for you to heal him.”
“Then what can I do for you?”
“There is only one present on Johnny’s Christmas list this year,” she said.
“Tell me what it is and I’ll do my best.”
“He wants a rocket ship.” “A rocket ship?” said Santa. “I can certainly do that. What kind would he like? A red one that takes his imagination to outer space or a blue one that can blast off because it’s water propelled or maybe something with a remote control?”
“No sir, you don’t understand,” she squirmed. “Johnny doesn’t want a toy rocket ship. He wants a real one.”
“A real one?”
“Yes, sir. We both know you can’t cure him,” said Lizzy. “But maybe you could build him a rocket ship so he can travel to someplace where he wouldn’t have to be sick anymore.”
“Lizzy,” Santa sighed.
“Please, Mr. Claus? You just have to do something for him.”
“You dear, sweet girl,” he said, shoulders slumped. “This isn’t something I can promise …”
“I know,” she said, defeated. “It’s okay. I knew you weren't the real Santa Claus anyway. What would the real Santa be doing in a mall a few weeks before Christmas?”
“What I was going to say, Lizzy, is that it isn’t something I can promise,” he continued. “But if you believe and I mean really, really believe with all your heart … maybe your wish will come true.”
“You really mean that?”
“It’s Christmas, Lizzy. We are celebrating the anniversary of the miracle of miracles.”
“Oh, thank you, Santa!” Lizzy exclaimed, turning to hug him. “I’ll believe. You’ll see. I’ll believe.”
“I have faith in both you and your brother,” said Santa. “In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the biggest rocket ship you’ve ever seen wasn’t waiting for you and your brother on Christmas Day!”
“Christmas Day? Oh no, that won’t do,” Lizzy said, pulling back. “That won’t do at all.”
“They don’t know if my brother will make it to Christmas Day,” said Lizzy. “We need it much sooner than that.”
“I see,” Santa sighed again, cupping his chin in thought. “This really is a puzzle.”
“I know,” she said. “It isn’t something you can promise.”
“It doesn’t matter what I can or can’t promise, Lizzy,” said Santa, laying a finger to her heart. “All miracles start from the inside out. Don’t give up on your dreams.”
Lizzy didn’t say a word as she first stood up. The once short line to see Santa Claus had swelled from to two children to nearly twenty, ranging from toddlers being held by enthusiastic mothers and fathers to six-year-old kids with shopping lists spooling out of one hand while using the other to tug at their tired-eyed parents who had become far too practiced in the annual ritual to be engaged.
The length of this line, along with the growing impatience of those waiting, seemed to break Lizzy from her spell. Time was no longer standing still. The rest of the world was waiting.
“You’re not such a bad guy for a mall Santa,” she said. “Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas, Lizzy” he said. “Don’t forget. Miracles happen from the inside out.”
She didn’t say anything else nor did she look back over her shoulder as the merry tenor of Santa’s voice returned. He was asking the next kid in line a litany of questions with the same sing-song familiarity of seasons past. For weeks, she had prayed for her brother to be able to visit Santa and hear them too, but those prayers had gone unanswered.
“Did you tell Santa everything you wanted?” asked her mother. “Yes,” said Lizzy, avoiding eye contact.
“So what was at the top of your list?”
“Oh, you know,” said Lizzy. “I really want a gift card to Justice.”
This is the first of a four-part short for the holidays. If you would like to read the balance of "Once Upon A Red Rocket," you're invited to find it here on my fiction Facebook page. It's where I publish most "first look" fiction material from time to time. Good night, good luck, and Happy Holidays!